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The owl and the pussycat Ian beck

Oh, to go to sea in a beautiful pea-green boat … The classic children’s poem, The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, has been a family favourite for many years; I used to read it to my son, Alex, at bedtime. It weaves its quirky magic in every line, taking us on an extraordinary journey to an imaginary land, ‘where the Bong Tree grows’. It’s got everything we could wish for in life: adventure, food and drink, money, music, dance and romance. It’s also stars two of our favourite creatures, an owl and a pussycat, plus a pig and a turkey.

A Book of Nonsense (c. 1875 James Miller edition) by Edward Lear

A Book of Nonsense (c. 1875 James Miller edition) by Edward Lear

In 1846 Lear published A Book of Nonsense, a volume of limericks. In 1871 he published Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets, which included his most famous nonsense song, The Owl and the Pussycat. It was either written for his patron, the Earl of Derby’s daughter OR three-year-old Janet Symonds, daughter of Lear’s friend, poet John Addington Symonds. The term runcible, used for the phrase “runcible spoon”, was invented for the poem.’ (The Owl and the PussycatWikipedia)

The Owl and the Pussycat -Edward Lear illustration

The Owl and the Pussycat – Edward Lear illustration

Many artists have illustrated the poem since it was published in 1871, including Lear himself. He was a talented artist and became an ‘ornithological draughtsman‘ getting work with the Zoological Society and then from 1832 to 1836 with the Earl of Derby, who kept a private menagerie at his estate. We have a beautifully illustrated version of The Owl and The Pussy Cat by Ian Beck (see top). His brightly coloured paintings bring this charming nonsense poem alive in a delightful way. (We also have another Ian Beck illustrated Lear poem – see The Jumblies). Read the poem and remind yourself of Lear’s literary quirkiness!

The Owl and the Pussycat - illustration by Toadbriar

The Owl and the Pussycat – illustration by Toadbriar

The Owl and the Pussycat

I

The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
   In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
   Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
   And sang to a small guitar,
“O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
    What a beautiful Pussy you are,
         You are,
         You are!
What a beautiful Pussy you are!”
II
Pussy said to the Owl, “You elegant fowl!
   How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
   But what shall we do for a ring?”
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
   To the land where the Bong-Tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
   With a ring at the end of his nose,
             His nose,
             His nose,
   With a ring at the end of his nose.
II
“Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
   Your ring?” Said the Piggy, “I will.”
So they took it away, and were married next day
   By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
   Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
   They danced by the light of the moon,
             The moon,
             The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
Edward Lear 1812 – 1888
The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear - illustrator LoneAnimator

The Owl and the Pussycat – illustrator LoneAnimator